There is a notion that pervades marketing circles today, a notion of mysterious ethereal creatures who exist in a hyper-connected, multifaceted cyber world of their own. They are an enigma: they speak a different language, communicate in ways we don’t understand, and they are turning the world of marketing on its head. These are the ephemeral, wraith-like digital consumers who slip effortlessly through the marketer’s grasp. Digital consumers are different, we’re told… but are they really?
The digital consumer revealed
The first thing to realize about digital consumers is that there is basically no such thing. The customers and prospects you encounter online are the very same people who walk into your store every day, call you on the telephone, or order something from your mail-order catalogue. There’s nothing dark, sinister or mysterious about them. They are people like everybody else
Making the web their own
Consumers, whatever their flavour don’t care about the way that marketers define what they do. Concepts like above the line, through the line, below the line, digital, traditional, experiential, linear, analogue, mobile, direct, indirect or any other box we care to slip our marketing endeavours into are completely meaningless to them. All consumers care about is the experience how the marketing available to them can enhance the experience and help them to make more informed decisions.
I don’t know you and you don’t know me
On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog right? Perceived anonymity is another online trait that can have a profound effect on consumer behaviour. It liberates consumers from the social shackles that bind them in the real world; online they are free to do and say as they please with scant regard for the social propriety that holds sway in real life.
In a bricks-and-mortar store, shoppers will wait patiently for service, and will often endure a less than flawless shopping experience to get what they want. Online they won’t; they demand instant gratification and a flawless customer experience. You have to deliver, first time, every time. If you fail to engage, retain and fulfil their expectations on demand, they’re gone, vanishing into the ether of cyberspace as quickly as they came; the only trace a fleeting, solitary record on your web server’s log file.
Key traits of the online consumer
We are all familiar with the old road-rage analogy of the congenial, neighbourly man or woman who suddenly becomes a raving speed demon when they get behind the wheel of a car. Well, there is something about the immediacy and anonymity of the digital experience that has a similar effect on people. It’s always risky to generalize and make assumptions about people – especially in a field as dynamic and fast-moving as this one.
The only real way to know your market intimately is to conduct original research within your particular target group. That said, a lot of research work has been done (and continues to be done) on the behavioural traits of online consumers, and a broad consensus has emerged around the key characteristics that epitomize the digital consumer: